What is (or should it be are? but we shall stay with the singular) Biblical Studies? Is it a watered-down version of theology with the doctrinal parts omitted? Is it like Religious Studies, but concentrating on Judaism and Christianity? The answer is that Biblical Studies is a collection of various, and in some cases independent, disciplines clustering around a collection of texts known as the Bible whose precise limits (those of the Bible) are still a matter of disagreement among various branches of the Christian churches. These disciplines range from Archaeology, Egyptology, and Assyriology through Textual Criticism, Linguistics, History, and Sociology, to Literary Theory, Feminism, and Theology, to name only some. That these disciplines should have come to be connected with the study of the Bible results from the unique position that the Bible (however understood) has occupied in Western history, art, and culture for some 2,000 years. No comparable collection of texts has been subjected to such sustained critical examination and elucidation over such a long period of time. The present Handbook aims to indicate to readers the current state of scholarship associated with the Bible.
On the assumption that readers will concentrate upon particular chapters that interest or concern them, rather than attempt to read the Handbook from beginning to end, no attempt has been made by the editors to harmonize the contributions. Anyone who does succeed in reading it from beginning to end will notice that there is occasionally some overlap of material, not to mention differences of opinion among the contributors. Also, it will be noticeable that English-speaking contributors from North America seem to read a different set of books from those in Britain, while contributors from Germany concentrate primarily on German-speaking scholarship (an exception is the essay on feminism). These differences are representative of the state of scholarship, which has become so technical and specialized that even scholars working in a comparatively small area cannot hope to master the secondary literature produced by experts working in different countries and languages. However, in the view of the editors, the diversity that becomes apparent in the Handbook is a reliable guide to the present state of Biblical Studies.
The Handbook has taken longer to reach its final form than the editors originally envisaged. In several cases, contributors had to withdraw for personal reasons, and in one case, that of Dr Ian MacDonald, who agreed to write the chapter on ethics, his sad death before he had been able to complete the work meant that another contributor had to be sought at short notice. Also, Professor J. N. Birdsall died before his article went to press. The editors wish to record their gratitude both to those colleagues who met the original deadlines and who then had to wait longer than expected for the collection to be completed, and those who stepped in at short notice to fill unanticipated gaps.
The four essays from German colleagues have been translated by John Rogerson and approved and amended by the contributors. In the case of the highly technical essay by Johannes Floss, additional help was given by two colleagues in Aachen, Professor P. G. Meyer and Dr. P. H. Marsden. John Rogerson is also grateful to his niece Rhianna Fulford, who provided help with scanning, typing, indexing, and formatting.
J. W. Rogerson